There’s no question that Democrats had a good night on Tuesday. But it was nowhere near what the resistance crowd had hoped. The question now is: Can the party resist its angry base demanding retribution, or try to act like adults and get things done?
When it comes to wave elections, this one wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
In 1994 — two years into Bill Clinton’s first term — Republicans gained a stunning 54 seats to take control of the House, and 9 to take control of the Senate.
Then, in 2010 — two years into Barack Obama’s first term — Republicans gained an even more stunning 63 seats in the House, and six in the Senate, in another stunning rebuke of a Democratic president.
Election Results: Not A Wave
By contrast, Democrats will, when votes are all counted, likely gain 30-some seats in the House. That’s only slightly above the average midterm gains for the party out of power. At the same time, they lost two (and possibly three) Senate seats.
Given that Democrats cast this as a high-stakes election, and given the overwhelmingly negative coverage of President Donald Trump, the final result was not all that impressive.
So how will Democrats proceed, since they ran a largely empty campaign based almost entirely on stopping Trump and spreading fear about health care?
They claim to have a full agenda at the ready, including changes to campaign and ethics laws, redistricting, and voting rights. (Anyone recall those issues being top of mind with voters?)
They also say they want to take on prescription drug costs and more money for infrastructure. Those are two areas where they might find common ground with Trump. He’s already taken steps to rein in drug prices, and put forward an ambitious infrastructure proposal.
Nancy Pelosi says she wants to show voters that, as The New York Times put it, “Democrats are a governing party, not the leftist mob that Mr. Trump has described — and to extend an arm of cooperation to the president after an electoral rebuke.”
We’ll believe that when we see it.
Work With Trump?
Democrats already had the chance to work with Trump. Instead they indulged in a two-year primal scream, fantasizing about Trump being indicted or impeached while encouraging violence against Republicans.
The idea that the party’s base will allow Pelosi to suddenly make nice with Trump, or give him anything he can declare a win, seems pretty far-fetched.
As the Times put it, Pelosi faces “the challenge of reining in the most energized liberal lawmakers, for whom anything short of a presidential impeachment would be a compromise too far.”
It’s more than a mere challenge. The election will put hard-core leftist Democrats — like Elijah Cummings, Maxine Waters, and Adam Schiff — in charge of key House committees, complete with the ability to harass the administration with endless investigations and subpoenas.
Before the midterms, Cummings was “prepping targets — from the security clearances of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former national security advisor Michael Flynn, to digging into how former EPA chief Scott Pruitt was able to keep his job for so long — and the list is getting longer by the week,” according to Politico.
Aiming for Impeachment
The left-wing Mother Jones compiled a Democratic hit list that runs the gamut from Trump’s so-called Muslim travel ban to Ivanka Trump’s business affairs. They will no doubt put constant pressure on Trump to release old tax returns. And despite keeping talk of impeachment under wraps during the campaign, many Democrats will be eager use any excuse to launch the process.
Pelosi also must contend with the ascendant socialist wing of the party, which wants action on things like socialized medicine (aka “Medicare for all”), job-killing minimum wage hikes, free college, etc.
Sure, Democrats realize that the election results did not provide them a mandate to overturn Trump’s agenda. And they could act like a grown-up governing party. We hope they do. But we’re not willing to put money on it.